Based mostly on material found in the Falcon 4.0 Allied Force flight manual, this is a selection of fighter formations, each with their own uses, strengths and weaknesses. Mastering formation flying and communication between wingmen will give you an edge in combat - as long as you don't get so caught up maintaining your formation flying that you forget the battle going on around you! Also find user-submitted formations here. Test them out and see what works!
Note that the article has been 'translated' from F-16 formations and tactics to Star Wars starfighter formations and tactics. It's possible that a formation that works well in atmosphere with a Viper might not work as well in space with a flight of TIE Interceptors. The only way to find out is to experiment, so get on that server with your buddies and form some formations!
Several terms are used in the article that may require definition:
- Elements:A flight of four fighters is split into two elements. If we use as an example a flight of four X-Wings designated Red Group, Red Leader and Red 2 would make up the first Element, while Red 3 and 4 would constitute the second element. In this example, Red 3 would lead the second element, while Red Leader would lead his element as well as the flight group.
- Flight/Flight Group: A flight, aka flight group, is a unit of fighters operating together. Larger flights are divided into elements.
- Package: A package refers to several flight groups operating together, such as a flight group of TIE Bombers with a TIE Interceptor flight group providing escort.
- Trail: A formation is often built in such a way that the second element flies a distance behind the first. This is referred to as flying in trail.
- Wingman: A wingman is a pilot whose starfighter belongs to your flight.
The Spread formation has your fighters flying side-by-side, with the elements slightly apart, so that when you're hitting an armed target, all your fighters enter weapon range at the same time. This forces the enemy gunners to pick a single target, making this formation useful when you are pitted against a heavily armed target.
The Box formation arranges the flight so that the fighters form a 'box'. This has several advantages - it's easy to form and maneuver in, it means the trailing element can easily provide cover for the lead element, and it offers good cover from attacks from the rear. The formation is useful when approaching targets at low altitude in atmospheric conditions, and the spacing between elements makes it suitable for cap ship strikes and air-to-ground attacks as well.
The Arrowhead formation, known in its infancy as the 'Joe Bob Box' after its inventor, a legendary R-41/X-Wing pilot whose nickname was 'Joe Bob', is a variation of the Box formation. The second element is arranged as before, the but the first element now flies in close formation, adding to the flight leader's protection. This makes for a multi-purpose formation suited for dogfighting, cap ship strikes, and air-to-ground attack in atmosphere.
The Wedge formation arranges the elements a distance apart from each others, with the fighters in both elements flying in close proximity. The distance between the elements makes the formation suited for dogfights as the pilots are less likely to get in each others' way, but is unsuited for warhead-firing as the second element's line of fire is easily blocked by the element in front of it, and nothing ruins your day more than jinking to avoid fire only to be hit by a volley of proton torpedoes from behind.
The Trail formation, while a poor dogfighting formation as the last fighter is totally without cover from attacks from behind, makes for a good arrangement for cap ship strikes and air-to-ground attack. The formation is formed by lining up the flight so that the second element flies directly behind the first.
Another strike formation for hitting ground targets, Ladder has the pilots position their fighters behind and above the fighter in front of them. The fact that the fighters are at different altitudes make things difficult for anti-aircraft gunners. When hitting targets at your own altitude, such as capital ships, it's a better idea to keep all your fighters at the same altitude, directly behind one another.
The Stack (right) is made up of fighters flying directly above each others. While very hard to form and maneuver in, the Stack formation is a good choice when anticipating fighter attack as it's hard to sort out for enemy fighters. The positioning of the fighters makes it hard to provide support to wingmen, though.
The tried and true Flying Wedge (also known as formation V) places the flight leader at the head of a V-shaped wedge, with his wingman off to his right and the second element to his left. Fighters are spaced equidistantly from each other unlike the Wedge formation, which displaces the first and second elements. Variations of the Flying Wedge place the fighters at different altitudes relative to each other; one popular example has the flight leader at the highest point, with the other group members getting progressively lower the further away they are. The Flying Wedge is an excellent escort formation as well as a dogfighting setup, as the members on the outside can easily break up, down, or out.
Devised by Wedge Antilles while serving as Commanding Officer of Wraith Squadron, Kettch's Drill gets its name from the guise the Commander was forced to assume during a covert operation; that of a genetically-engineered hyper intelligent Ewok pilot. Kettch's Drill involves two elements and one extra fighter: the two elements take the front to form a square, with each fighter's bottom facing towards the center of the box; the extra fighter sets up behind the square, poised to shoot through its center. In a confrontation, the outside elements rudder and rotate around the center of the square, resulting in a drill-like action that, combined with weapons fire, can scatter enemy fighter formations and bedevil gunners on capital ships. This formation works best in space combat.
- ↑ In reality, the formation was invented by a 'Joe Bob' who flew an F-16, not an X-Wing.